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Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835)
La Sonnambula (1831)
Giacomo Prestia (bass) – Il Conte Rodolfo; Nicoletta Curiel (mezzo) – Teresa; Eva Mei (soprano) – Amina; José Bros (tenor) – Elvino; Gemma Bertagnolli (soprano) – Lisa; Enrico Turco (baritone) – Alessio; Saverio Bambi (tenor) – Un notaro
Orchestra e Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Daniel Oren
Recorded live at the Teatro Comunale, Florence, 31 January 2004.
Directed for TV and Video by Paola Longobardo
Directed for Stage by Federico Tiezzi; Set Design: Pier Paolo Bisleri; Costume Design: Gabriella Pescucci; Lighting Design: Vinicio Cheli; Lighting Engineer: Gianni Paolo Mirenda; Director of Stage Production: Massimo Teoldi

Bellini’s rural Swiss idyll opera is brimful with wonderful melodies and virtuoso cantilena, requiring true bel canto artists. On the other hand there is very little harmonic development, the orchestra is there to provide the accompaniment and really dramatic music is practically absent. There is an almost somnambulistic atmosphere surrounding the whole work and here the director Federico Tiezzi has cleverly presented the opera as taking place in a dream, Amina’s dream. The fanciful sets also makes one think of children’s picture-books.

When this production was first seen at the Teatro Comunale in Florence in December 2000 it was controversial, I read in Kenneth Chalmers essay in the booklet. Traditionalists may feel short-changed by the fairy-tale approach, but, although I can be disheartened by some directors’ stubborn search for originality, placing the action in any period except the one the composer intended, I found this an uplifting and wholly engrossing experience. This is helped by razor-sharp pictures and sound to match and no less than 40 cuing-points for those who want to pick and choose. The video direction by Paola Longobardo gives us enough of the stage-picture to feel present at the Teatro Comunale, but she also works a lot with close-ups. It should also be mentioned that there are some cuts: apart from some minor excisions within numbers, Lisa’s second-act aria and the subsequent quartet are missing, which puts the focus even more on the heroine. The time is the end of the 19th century and whether it plays in Switzerland is hard to tell but the first act takes place on a very steep and very green hill on top of which is a house-façade with many windows and a centrally placed door through which the different characters make their entrance into the picture-book world. Behind is a very blue sky – and I mean very blue. The chorus functions as a collective, reacting to things that happen. Sometimes intensified by the lighting they act ominously and dramatically where there is no corresponding drama in the music. The second scene of the first act, taking place in Count Rodolfo’s room at the inn, has an enormous and very red sofa as its centre-piece, a sofa on which Amina in her first sleepwalking scene lies down. "Freudian resonances", Kenneth Chalmers writes in his essay. The second act sleepwalking scene takes place on the collapsing metal bridge over an icy landscape, which can be seen on the box-cover above.

Daniel Oren obviously loves every bar of this score and sometimes becomes almost dangerously slow in his attempts to expose the beauty of the music. This further enhances the dreamlike feeling. With three principals who are just as involved he manages to bring it off successfully.

The acting is on the whole excellent. The members of the chorus have a lot of individual acting to do within the collective. Giacomo Prestia, an older-looking Count than most, is an imposing presence whenever he is on stage. He starts a bit unsteadily but sings his cavatina Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni" with dignity and a fine legato. As Elvino the Catalan tenor José Bros is light-voiced and flexible and sings with true Bellinian style. I heard him as Nemorino in L’Elisir d’amore at Covent Garden some years ago and I his way with Una furtiva lagrima was closer to the ideal than most tenors I have heard. His singing here of Prendi: l’anel ti dono (track 11) is one of the jewels of the performance. As an actor he can be a bit stiff – but the singing! But of course it is La Sonnambula herself, Amina, who carries the performance and Eva Mei has made this role very much her own in Italy. There is today – well the recording was made all but two years ago – a suspicion of a beat in her voice on some held notes, but otherwise she delivers the same spotless singing we have come to expect. And she cuts an endearing character on stage with a radiant smile, something that Paola Longobardo catches in close-ups every so often.

Gemma Bertagnolli is a good Lisa but due to the aforementioned cuts her role is more or less marginalized.

For the singing of the principals, for Oren’s loving treatment of the score and for the fanciful production this set can be safely recommended. In my family it will be played again pretty soon, I promise!

Göran Forsling



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